Diplomatic Responses to Sex Scandal: Embassy Row Keeps Ball Rolling as Social Season Officially Begins

Article excerpt

"I just don't understand it at all," Maltese Ambassador Mark Anthony Micallef said, looking perplexed and shaking his head at the Ambassadors Ball.

Mr. Micallef was hardly the only senior envoy expressing confusion and dismay about President Clinton's predicament at last Thursday's event, which traditionally marks the beginning of the Embassy Row social season. Diplomatic colleagues from throughout the world - Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia - unanimously expressed concern about the extraordinary developments they are monitoring for their governments back home.

"The United States is being carefully watched by the rest of the world," said Argentine Ambassador Diego Ramiro Guelar, who pointed out that the unprecedented ovation Mr. Clinton received from the U.N. General Assembly last week was "not a coincidence."

The president's pressing domestic problems have not changed the fact that he "is seen as a great leader all over the world," Mr. Guelar said.

Other ambassadors' reactions ran the gamut from inscrutable to incredulous as they drifted into the pre-ball VIP reception at the Grand Hyatt Washington.

"In Turkey there is a golden rule," said Baki Ilkin, that country's newly arrived envoy: "If you want to be a welcome guest you never comment on a country's internal affairs."

Asked how his countrymen were reacting, Romanian Ambassador Mircea Geoana ventured to say it was "with a mixture of amusement over the juicy tabloid stuff and anxiety that the situation will distract from important international issues, especially the economy."

Swaziland's Mary Madzandza Kanya was more blunt than most about the investigation's seamier aspects, though her opinion mirrored that of numerous others who would only speak off the record:

"In my country, it is not something you would do to a president or prime minister," she said. …